Apple High Sierra's new file system is the operating system's most important new feature.

If you’re over 40 you can skip this first paragraph; you lived it. Microsoft grew rich and powerful by selling an expensive operating system (OS) that ran on cheap computers that other companies made and sold. Apple bet on a free operating system that ran on expensive computers it built and sold.

To this day, the norm for Microsoft customers is that operating system upgrades cost, and Apple users get free updates, even major new releases.

Over the last eight weeks millions have migrated to High Sierra, the latest incarnation of the Mac OS. In theory, it’s a minor step up from its predecessor Sierra, but it’s minor step-ups like this that remind Mac users that their hardware was worth the price.

As good as Apple is at glitz and hoopla, High Sierra’s most important new feature is invisible, one for the techies.

The most important software on a computer is its file system. Every time a system, program or data file is opened, run, changed, copied, moved, compressed, saved, deleted or encrypted, it’s the file system doing the work.

High Sierra introduces an all-new system designed for solid state drives, because they’re the future.

Generational change

For nearly 20 years, Macs have relied on HFS+, a file system developed for spinning hard drives, and it has served us well. But it doesn’t handle solid state drives like the ones in MacBooks well. So Apple bit the bullet and rewrote it from the ground up.

In short, APFS (Apple File System) works faster, it’s more stable, more secure and it can do some really clever tricks.

One of our favourites is that you can save and modify an apparent duplicate of a file, but the OS is actually just tracking the differences between old and new, which take up much less disk space than an entire second copy. If you’re editing large files like video and like to save versions regularly this can save huge amounts of storage.

But closing the hood on the file system, there’s still plenty to see in High Sierra. Who hasn’t cursed auto-play, where a new tab in your web browser starts playing an embedded video uninvited?

Safari can now suppress that boorish behaviour, across the board or on a site-by-site basis.

Thwarting invasive ads

Safari can also stop advertisers stalking you as you move between websites. A couple of years ago, with a family trip to sunny Queensland coming up, we naively ordered a new swimsuit online for the beloved. It was a couple of months before bikini babes stopped popping up every time we used the browser, including during client presentations.

Thanks to the new Safari, you can check out a new Chardonnay release without being pounded by booze ads for weeks to come.

You can now turn on Safari’s Reader mode permanently for a website. Reader doesn’t work for all pages, but when it does pop-ups, videos, ads and sponsored content links are stripped out, leaving just the text you’re really interested in.

Right clicking in the page address window near top of screen now offers an option to use Reader mode for that site, whenever it’s available.

iCloud advances

iCloud has taken a small but welcome step towards morphing into a collaboration tool. It’s now possible to share a single file with another iCloud user, using a link-sharing option called Add People.

Depending on permissions you set, your collaborator can view or even edit the file in place. The feature is miles short of a full workgroup cloud service like Dropbox or Google Drive – it can’t even handle sharing at the folder level – but it’s still very handy.

Apple’s mail client – that would be Mail – has a new option to fall in love with. In full-screen mode, when you open an incoming message or a window to compose new outgoing mail it defaults to a split screen display. In one section of the screen you can still navigate around your other mailboxes and messages. In the other you read or work on the one you’ve selected.

With most mail programs you can either work on a new message or navigate and read others. Being able to do both at the same time makes great sense. You can disable the feature in Preferences if it doesn’t appeal.

With dozens of other nice tweaks and a price tag of free, High Sierra proves you shouldn’t look a gift OS in the mouth.